Experiencing Puerto Rico firsthand
October 19, 2017
I'm a local family physician and I recently returned from Puerto Rico after close to two weeks volunteering with Heart to Heart International. As a group we were able to provide immediate, direct patient care in multiple areas, urban and rural.
As far as I can discern, there is chaos in the leadership and coordination of the large government entities centered in San Juan. My faith in their ability to effectively to provide aid has been shaken. However, in direct contradiction to prevailing narratives, the people of Puerto Rico are working tirelessly to help each other. I worked with Puerto Rican physicians who in the aftermath of Maria worked days straight without break, EMS first responders who continue to work day and night in primitive conditions (limited gasoline for ambulances, minimal communication capabilities, etc), and regular citizens who are taking care of their vulnerable elderly/disabled friends and neighbors. I'm heartened by this outpouring of human decency and compassion.
Their infrastructure has literally been completely destroyed. It's hard to imagine unless you see it firsthand; think Mount St. Helens or Verdun. After I returned, I read that phone/internet services were out for a day in the Roaring Fork Valley. I would ask you to imagine if that were the case here for four weeks and expected to continue for months, in addition to no potable water or power/electricity.
The "disaster after the disaster" is often more deadly as secondary illnesses present (waterborne disease), people with chronic disease decompensate (diabetic patients with no way to get or refrigerate their insulin or patients with emphysema with no electricity to power their oxygen concentrator or nebulizer — I saw both), and desperation takes over.
I would encourage people to keep the U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico in the forefront of their mind and to continue to support organizations that are on the ground actively helping. Heart to Heart International is one such well-run organization, but there are others as well. Thank you.
Chad Knaus, M.D.
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